WHERE TO WATCH:
DStv Now, Fridays at 21:30 on M-Net (DStv 101)
WHAT IT’S ABOUT:
A team of high school soccer players’ plane crashes deep in the wilderness on the way to a national tournament. The remaining team members are left to fend for themselves for 19 months.
WHAT WE THOUGHT:
The social experiment surrounding The Lord of the Flies by William Golding has interested psychologists for a long time. It was what had us glued to our screens watching Lost each week and what once again has made Yellowjackets such a compelling and exciting watch.
Yellowjackets exist in two different time periods. The original story takes place in 1996 when the Yellowjackets are a successful high school soccer team that makes it to the nationals of the tournament. The team travels via private plane from New Jersey to Seattle, but the plane crashes somewhere over the Canadian wilderness. After 19 months spent in the wilderness, those that survived had to resort to desperate measures to stay alive.
The second part of the story takes place in 2021 when those who were rescued are still haunted by what they saw and what they did. Alongside the trauma they are dealing with, they have to contend with someone threatening them, a supposed suicide, and the fear that one of the survivors will talk about what happened.
The concept behind the series – what will happen when you put a group of girls in their prime in a deserted area to fight for their lives – is a compelling one because of how the hierarchy shifts and who rises above the ashes. Before the incident, Jackie (Ella Purnell) was homecoming queen, team captain, and dating the coolest guy in the school, but in the wilderness, she struggles to adapt and build up survival instincts. Then there is Misty (Sammi Hanratty), the team’s equipment manager, who was bullied and was mainly seen as an outcast. But after the crash, Misty’s knowledge of survival tactics and first aid helps her to become a crucial member of the team. There are also other aspects of the characters that seem authentic to being a teenage girl, especially in the riot girl/girl power era of the mid-90s, and subverting various stereotypes around the characters.
There are petty jealousies, crushes, and even an episode where they all get their period, and they have to navigate around that. It brings a new dynamic to the survival drama concept that we have seen so many times in film and television, and even though there are men with them – notably the head coach’s two sons Travis (Kevin Alves) and Javi (Luciano Leroux) and the assistant coach Ben (Steven Krueger) – that never takes away from the fact that this is a group led by the women.
In the present day, some members of the surviving group of Yellowjackets are being blackmailed by someone who claims to know the truth about what happened when they were stranded, and the group attempts to solve the mystery. This storyline falters towards the end, and even though it gives us some good buddy road trip scenes with Natalie (Juliette Lewis) and Misty (Christina Ricci), it often feels like the theories were better than the actual execution.
But I still found myself drawn to the stories of the older women; when we meet them, it is like finding the end of the puzzle, and the flashbacks are the pieces we discover to learn why they are the way they are. Shauna (Sophie Nelisse) was once a sullen and introverted teenager, sleeping with her best friend Jackie’s boyfriend Jeff (Jack Depew), and was on her way to go to Brown University. Now, as an adult Shauna (Melanie Lynskey) is a bored housewife, who is in a disconnected relationship with Jeff, does not have a good relationship with her teenage daughter, and is entertaining an affair with a younger man. Taissa (Tawny Cypress) came back from the wilderness and achieved all she wanted to; she is currently running for state senator but still has a dark side haunting her. Then there’s Natalie, who was the rebel of the group and in the present day is handling an alcohol addiction. Misty, however, is still terrorizing her patients as a nurse at an eldercare facility. It is such an interesting study of how different women handle trauma and what it feels like to not live up to your potential. Each of the four main characters is so compelling that any time spent with them on-screen felt too short for me, and I constantly wanted to learn more about their journeys and what happened between 1996 and 2021.
It is perhaps ironic that three of the main actors – Melanie Lynskey, Juliette Lewis, and Christina Ricci – were well-known in the 90s for playing young or teenage characters in darker films. They have that sense of notoriety around them and know what it is like to grow up in the public eye. Lynskey, in particular, has been consistently good for decades, and this role, in particular, is meaty and hopefully will be able to give her more roles and the accolades that she deserves.
They also did a fantastic job of casting the younger actors, so much so that they seem to match the mannerisms and facial expressions of their older counterparts. Sophie Nelisse as Shauna and Jasmin Savoy Brown as Taissa is particularly good, and this can be seen clearly in mirroring scenes of the two talking while laying together in the attic of the abandoned home they are staying in the wilderness, and again when Taissa is staying over at Shauna’s home. The transition feels almost seamless.
Yellowjackets is an interesting and compelling portrayal of survival, trauma, and being an older woman fighting the unsolved feelings from our youth. It is a series that feels extremely original and fresh while still keeping you on the edge of your seat and slightly nostalgic. There are some gory scenes, and some hints to cannibalism, but not enough to disgust the viewer and make you want to stop watching. This has easily become one of my favorite watches, and I can’t wait for season two.